Sports are about hard work, determination, commitment, teamwork, practice and a little more hard work. To succeed in the world of sport an athlete must be both physically and mentally strong, and this means that all athletes should have an incredibly high drive and strong work ethic. They have all had to sacrifice and work hard to get to where they are today, with many of them going on particularly difficult journeys to become professional athletes. This makes them fascinating, inspirational and motivational individuals, and over the years there have been many of them which have delivered incredible speeches which have inspired, moved or entertained sports fans around the world.
Normally, listening to athletes being interviewed after games is a dull, predictable affair where they rehash the same old clichés of “giving 110%”, but under circumstances such as award acceptances, retirement announcements and Hall of Fame inductions there have been many brilliantly written or improvised speeches which will be forever remembered. Although constantly in the public eye, athletes rarely get the opportunity to fully express themselves, as their only opportunities arise after a grueling match where a microphone and camera are thrust in their face, or through 140 characters on Twitter, neither of which are the ideal platform to fully express ones thoughts and opinions.
Of course not all athletes are able to articulate their thoughts and many of them are not particularly reflective, but when some athletes get the time and space to express themselves then you will be taken back by what they have to say. We all know that coaches and characters in sports films are able to deliver rousing speeches which can inspire, fire up, move and motivate those that hear them, but what about the athletes?
Here are the top 10 speeches of all time delivered by athletes.
10 Tim Thomas
Tim Thomas’s acceptance of the 2009 Vezina award was very humble and Thomas was clearly moved as he delivered his speech. It was a short but sweet speech, but he managed to win everyone’s hearts when he modestly claimed that he had been “more worried about getting my name on the roster than I have been about winning the Vezina Trophy”. Thomas famously struggled to get on a team for many years, so to be voted the league’s best goalie just a few years later it was a truly inspiring story.
He was clearly grateful to be where he was, and does his best to acknowledge those that have stood by him. He would lead the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup a couple of years later. Generally speaking, athletes are arrogant and egotistical, so to see such a humble, heartfelt speech was refreshing to see and helped Thomas stand out from the crowd.
9 Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis could have had his own top 10 list, as he has delivered an enormous amount of inspirational speeches over the years. He delivers the kind of speeches you find in Hollywood films, and could certainly have a career as a motivational speaker. This speech was delivered to his teammates following the Ravens loss in the AFC Championship game to the Patriots, a time in which most would feel despondent.
Lewis rallied his troops by stating how the taste of defeat would make them stronger, but also how there is more to life than sports as football offers an escape for those who are going through real pain. “This right here makes us stronger. Let’s understand who we are as a team, let's understand who we are as men, and let's make somebody smile when we walk out of here.”
8 Dennis Rodman
Although he struggled to get through his speech from the get go, there are not many speeches given by athletes as heartfelt as this one. The Worm let out his true personality to show that his eccentric outfits and wild lifestyle was just a cover, and he was in fact somebody with many flaws. By the end of the speech Rodman used the platform to reach out to his family and how he how wishes he can be a better father to his kids.
Although not the most eloquent, it was clearly a cathartic moment for Rodman and a touching speech which gave us an insight into the real Dennis Rodman. “I didn’t play the game for the money. I didn’t play to be famous. What you see here is just an illusion; I just love to be an individual that’s very colourful.”
7 Muhammad Ali
Although not a retirement or Hall of Fame speech, it is impossible to leave off Muhammad Ali when it comes to athlete speeches. He had an incredible way with words like no other athlete, and listening to him speak is as entertaining as watching him in the ring. Before his shock victory over George Foreman in 1974 in a fight dubbed The Rumble in the Jungle, Ali delivered a fantastic poem which epitomises his cheek, flair and confidence.
This poem is packed full of lines which the top rappers would be proud of. “For this fight I’ve wrestled with alligators, I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning and thrown thunder in jail”, as well as the excellent line, “I’m so mean, I make medicine sick”.
6 Darrell Green
Darrell Green’s Hall of Fame speech was the perfect blend of humour along with heartfelt emotion, which endeared him to the entire crowd and made sure that he wasn’t the only one crying by the end. He spoke from the heart about both of his parents who are deceased, but made sure not to miss anyone out who had helped him along the way. He delivered the speech in an engaging fashion and had everybody hanging on his every word, and it was a speech that was fitting for such an incredible athlete. His opening line set the tone for the rest of the speech, “Deacon Jones said I would cry. You bet your life I’m going to cry”.
5 Ted Williams
Ted Williams used his baseball 1966 Hall of Fame induction as a platform to urge for the addition of black players to Cooperstown. Williams said “I hope that one day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here because they weren’t given a chance”. Paige and Gibson were inducted into the Hall of Fame a few years later.
His speech also served as a love letter to the game of baseball and why it is one of the top American sports. This along with him voicing his opinion made his speech a lot more engaging than the majority of speeches which act as a long thank you list.
4 Curtis Martin
Curtis Martin’s Hall of Fame speech dealt with heavy subject matter and it clearly helped Martin to articulate his thoughts. His honesty surrounding the abuse his mother suffered at the hands of his late father make for a difficult watch, but it became clear how this became a pivotal moment in his life. His difficult upbringing, death of family members and near death experiences led his mother to tell him to do something after school so that he would be safe.
Despite not being a fan, Martin chose football as his hobby. He excelled at football, and would soon meet a much needed positive male role model, coach Bill Parsons, who helped him to become a successful athlete and man. It is a fantastic, moving and at times disturbing speech, and a terrific insight into the difficult journey that Martin went through to reach the Hall of Fame.
3 Michael Irvin
Off-field legal issues surrounded Michael Irvin’s playing career and life after the Dallas Cowboys, but instead of hiding from these dark times during his Hall of Fame induction speech, Irvin tackled them head on. The emotional, brave speech had everyone, including Irvin, in tears, and it was clearly a cathartic moment for the former wide receiver who has battled many demons. No one could question his talent, but many had questioned his character over the years, but this heartfelt speech moved even those who questioned him and people were taken back by his honesty. This speech will be best remembered for the inspiring line “look up, get up and don’t ever give up”.
2 Kevin Durant
Whoever wins MVP this season is going to have a hard time topping this speech. Kevin Durant’s MVP acceptance speech stunned the entire world and left even the toughest of people claiming they had something in their eye. Durant is a quiet athlete, which made his near half an hour speech even more gripping and heartfelt. Being the great person that he is, Durant went on to individually thank just about everyone at the Thunder franchise and those that have helped him along the way.
The real beauty of this speech however was when he talked about his upbringing and his mother, who sacrificed so much for Kevin and his brother when they were both young. Durant went on to claim to his mom that “you the real MVP”, which has since become a popular saying. This inspiring and touching speech was amazingly open and genuine, and certainly one for the ages.
1 Lou Gehrig
Lou Gehrig’s speech will go down as not only one of the greatest sports speeches of all time, but one of the greatest speeches in American history. Gehrig was one of the best to play the game and a class act, but in 1939 he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is now commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This quick and aggressive disease forced him into retirement, and it would claim his life just a few years later.
An appreciation day was put on by the Yankees in his honour, and it was here that Gehrig delivered his world famous speech to a packed Yankee Stadium. The entire speech is something to behold, with the opening of the speech being enough to send chills down the spines of many; “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”